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Bomb may have brought down Crashed Russian Jet

In this Russian Emergency Situations Ministry photo, made available on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015, Russian Emergency Ministry experts work at the crash site of a Russian passenger plane bound for St. Petersburg in Russia that crashed in Hassana, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015. A Russian cargo plane on Monday brought the first bodies of Russian victims home to St. Petersburg, from Egypt.(Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations photo via AP)

An anonymous U.S. intelligence official told the Associated Press that intercepted communication played a role in a tentative conclusion that a Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State planted an explosive device on the plane.

An affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for bringing down the plane in a tweet quickly after it crashed, but U.S. and Egyptian authorities initially dismissed the claim. The group allegedly reiterated that claim Wednesday in an audio recording circulated among militant supporters online, the AP reported.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that the Federal Aviation Administration has warned pilots for years to be careful flying over the Sinai, but no U.S. airlines depart from Sinai airports such as at Sharm el-Sheik.

Since March, the FAA has told U.S. airlines to fly at least 26,000 feet above Sinai to avoid shoulder-fired missiles or small arms insurgents could fire. The previous FAA warning since 2014 was to stay above 24,000 feet.

“If it were the last point of departure for any aircraft operating regularly in the United States, there would be a whole set of security regulations that would be imposed to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” Earnest said.

Crash investigators have begun listening to the cockpit voice recorder and are examining the flight-data recorder to determine how the Russian Metrojet plane was operating before it broke up over Egypt,  but a report could take weeks to produce.

Russia’s Interfax news service, citing a source in the investigation, reported the pilots were chatting normally with air-traffic controllers until four minutes before an “emergency situation occurred on board unexpectedly,” according to the AP.

“In the recordings, sounds uncharacteristic of a standard flight precede the moment of the airliner’s disappearance from radar screens,” the news service said, according to AP. “The pilots had no time to send out a distress signal.”

Maxim Sokolov, Russia’s transport minister, said experts  conducted a preliminary inspection of the recorders, nicknamed black boxes, but he didn’t offer more details, the AP said.

The Metrojet charter flight crashed 23 minutes into the flight bound for St. Petersburg, Russia. Wreckage was spread over 15 square miles of Egypt’s desert.

Flightradar24, which tracks flights worldwide, monitored the Airbus A321-200descending at 6,000 feet per minute before it fell off radar tracking. Experts said that descent is much steeper than a plane would land or glide during an emergency.

Apparent fluctuations in the jet’s altitude during the final 17 seconds of tracking — from 28,700 feet to 33,125 feet — were “unreliable” because they were derived from pressure sensors that could be affected by pressure changes outside the aircraft, Flightradar24 said.

Flightradar24 submitted its records to investigators in Egypt and France, where the jet was manufactured.

Because the tail was found 3 miles from other wreckage, crash experts questioned whether it could have separated in flight. The tail of the 18-year-old jet struck a runway in 2001, and tail strikes have led to other planes breaking up years later if not repaired properly.

James Record, a former 30-year commercial pilot who is an aviation professor atDowling College, in Oakdale N.Y., said finding the tail far away from the rest of the wreckage could signal it fell off.

“Investigators are reporting that the bodies of victims and the plane’s debris was scattered over a 6-mile area,” he said. “If the tail was not properly repaired, I fear that the tail may have fallen off the plane and caused this aircraft to crash.”

Glen Winn, an aviation security consultant who used to head security at United andNorthwest airlines, said if a tail strike damages or moves a pressure plate in the rear of an aircraft, it could become more damaged over time as the plane is pressured and depressurized during each flight.

“That could have begun the process of coming apart,” he said.

A metallurgist will be able to determine quickly — within hours — whether that was a problem in the Metrojet aircraft, Winn said. Investigators will also examine how the plane’s metal is bent for clues in how it came apart and will search for chemical residue from explosives.

Metrojet has insisted the jet was repaired and maintained properly.

A U.S. satellite registered a “heat flash” about the time that the jet crashed, according to a variety of news reports based on a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity. Though no missile was detected in the area, the flash could signal a bomb, but it could also represent a fuel tank exploding as the jet broke up for other reasons.

Russians continued mourning the loss of relatives on vacation; 33 bodies have been identified.


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